Franco-Ontarian Day: Archives of Ontario’s records shed light on French history

From now on, Sept. 25 will be Franco-Ontarian Day in Ontario, celebrating the vital contributions of the province’s francophone communities. The date marks the anniversary of the Franco-Ontarian flag’s unveiling in 1975 and commemorates the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s first journey to what is now Ontario.

On York’s Keele campus, the Archives of Ontario acquires, preserves and showcases records related to Ontario’s history, including some significant collections that help tell the story of the French presence in the province. The archive’s online exhibit, French Ontario in the 17th and 18th Centuries, is just one place to start as it gives a good introduction to the early francophone history of the province.

Right: Étienne Brûlé at the Mouth of the Humber by F. S. Challener. Oil on canvas. Government of Ontario Art Collection, 619849.

French explorers and missionaries began travelling throughout Ontario during the 17th and 18th centuries. The first European settlement was Stainte-Marie among the Hurons (1639-1649) near Midland. French-speaking settlers arrived in the Windsor area starting in 1749. The archives’ cartographic holdings include original French maps from this time period, as well as maps and plans documenting francophone settlement areas. The Archives of Ontario library holdings contain original works by early explorers. In addition, its private records include documents created by early settlers, fur traders, merchants and politicians.

Francophones settled in various areas across Ontario during the 19th and 20th centuries, mainly in the northeast, southwest, Georgian Bay, Ottawa and Prescott-Russell areas. Today, Ontario is now home to close to 600,000 francophones of all origins, the largest francophone population outside of Quebec. The provinicial government records detail milestone events and movements like the struggle for French-language education, the creation of the Office of Francophone Affairs and the development of French-language provincial services from the 1960s on. The archives also have collections of French-language newspapers from the early-20th century up until the 1980s.

The records of numerous Franco-Ontarian families give unique insight into francophone communities from the 18th century to the present. The Max LeMarchant deGodart du Plany collection consists of research notes, genealogies and correspondence of several French families. The archive’s holdings on the Dionne quintuplets – the first known birth of quintuplets, in 1934 – are of special interest, first because of the family, but then because news of the children’s tragic exploitation became world-famous.

To learn more about the archive’s Franco-Ontarian holdings, visit in person or online through the Archives of Ontario website.